If your client is convicted at trial, you turn to mitigating factors or hope for an impressive character witness. You can't do much better than a blubbing bossby Alex McBride / May 20, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
The game’s up. Your client has just been convicted at trial or done the decent thing and pleaded guilty. You stand up and apologise on his behalf. This is known as mitigation. There are set mitigating factors that will automatically reduce a sentence, like never having been convicted before, or pleading guilty at the first available opportunity. You work with the material you get: a junkie shoplifter with four packs of Lidl’s frozen chicken down the front of his trousers and 45 previous convictions is heading only one way. Clarence knew he was getting a “bird”—slang for a prison sentence. The only question was: how long? He arrived at court as if he were going on a cruise. He had three large bags, two cardboard boxes and a stereo to which he had duct-taped his favourite CDs. “Got to have your creature comforts,” he said. It was hard to disagree. After sentencing, you’re not allowed to pass anything to your client because he is now a prisoner, so we checked his bags into the cells early. The jailers were very reluctant but Clarence insisted he couldn’t possibly go away with anything less. He was too likeable to refuse.
Sitting outside court, Clarence explained how it had all gone wrong. His dad had disappeared when he was a baby. He’d craved a father figure and found him in a sly, old con who’d taken him under his wing. The con would dream up the wheezes and Clarence would help to make them work. When he got five years for dealing the con’s drugs, he loyally kept his mouth shut. No one grasses up his old man.
A guy about Clarence’s age was waiting to be sentenced, too. “You can do prison hard, or you can do it easy,” the man said. “If the screws wanted me out of the cell, they’d have to come and get me. If they pissed me off, I’d smear everything in shit.” Clarence chose easy. His tactic was to get a job in the laundry because then he had something to trade. If you didn’t keep the laundry sweet, they’d ruin your clothes, not through malice but becaus…